Pet behaviour counsellor
If you have experience of handling and training animals, and you can develop good working relationships with their owners, this could be the job for you.
Pet behaviour counsellors advise pet owners on dealing with general control issues and problematic behaviour with their pets.
In this job you will need to be a good communicator. You will need to be patient in your approach to your work. You will also need to be tactful when offering feedback to pet owners.
There are three main routes into this job: through a university course, working your way up through other animal care roles, and taking a course through a specialist organisation.
Your work could involve dealing with animal behaviour problems like:
- inappropriate noise, such as excessive barking
- aggression towards people or animals
- destructive behaviour
- toileting issues
- chasing livestock, cars or cyclists
- phobias and fearful behaviours
- general control
As a pet behaviour counsellor most of your work is likely to be with dogs or cats. Your tasks would include:
- taking referrals from vets
- holding consultations in your own centre, in veterinary surgeries or in owners' homes
- talking to the owner and observe the animal to get details of the problem
- analysing the nature of the problem and the likely causes
- drawing up a behaviour-modification programme for the owner to follow
- liaising with other animal related professionals
- writing a report outlining the behaviour modification plan and sending a copy of the report to the pet owner and to the veterinary surgeon
- keeping in touch with owners to check progress
- adapting the modification programme if necessary.
Companion animal behaviourists are responsible for the health and safety of pets, owners, themselves and other people when handling animals and recommending treatment plans. This is important because some animals can be aggressive.
You might also offer an animal training service.
You are likely to be self-employed, organising your own tax and insurance, and doing all the administrative tasks involved in running a business.
Working hours and conditions
As you would usually be self-employed, you would decide your own working hours. However, you would need to fit in with clients' requirements, which could mean working evenings and weekends.
You could be based in your own premises, in veterinary surgeons' clinics or visit owners' homes. You may have to spend some time outside to observe animals.
Although the work is rewarding, it can also be stressful and upsetting. For example, some of the animals you come across may have problems which cannot be modified because they are too deep-seated or have a medical cause.
Most animal behaviourists spend some time travelling between clients or clinics. A driving licence may be useful.
Pet behaviour counsellors are usually self-employed and charge for each consultation. Charges can range from £85 to over £250.
Total earnings vary depending on the size of the business. Counsellors typically supplement their income with related work like animal training or writing articles on animal behaviour.
There is no single recognised entry route, but entrants can consider three main routes:
Related degree courses are offered by many higher education institutions and specialised training is completed after graduation. Entry to a degree course usually requires a minimum of two A levels (often including biology and/or other science subjects) and five GCSEs (A*-C), including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.
Employment within the animal care industry, particularly the animal welfare sector, may offer opportunities for progression into specialised training related to animal behaviour and training.
The third option is a specialist course with one of the related organisations.
Whichever route is chosen all require extensive supervised training as well as a significant practical, hands-on experience of working with animals. Examples include working in kennels, a cattery, stables or a veterinary practice, or for one of the animal welfare societies.
Postgraduate courses usually require a first degree in a relevant subject, such as animal science, biology, zoology, veterinary science or psychology.
Animal behaviour courses vary considerably in content. Some deal only with companion animals, others also cover farm, laboratory or zoo animals. Courses tend to cover animal science (anatomy and physiology), health, psychology, behaviour, training and welfare.
Companion animal behaviourists continue learning throughout their career. They read research papers and journals, and attend seminars, workshops and conferences to keep up to date with the latest developments.
Knowledge and experience in working with dogs is important, as most of your work as a pet behaviour counsellor is likely to be with dogs.
Other relevant courses are listed on the following websites:
As well as learning the theory of animal behaviour, it is essential to have practical experience of working with animals. This could come from paid work, such as dog training or handling, or voluntary experience, for example in a kennels or veterinary surgery, or with an animal welfare organisation.
You can find out about opportunities for volunteering in your area from:
As an animal welfare assistant in a Blue Cross adoption centre, you may be able to train as an animal behaviour adviser, giving advice on minor problems.
Training and development
Throughout your career, you will need to keep your skills and knowledge up to date, for example by attending workshops, seminars and conferences, and reading professional journals.
You can join the APBC and the CFBA at various levels depending on your qualifications and experience - see the APBC and CFBA websites for details.
If you have completed an Honours or higher degree in a relevant subject, appropriate specialist courses, and at least three years of clinical experience working with the behaviour disorders of dogs, cats and other animals, you can gain certification from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB). See the ASAB website for the requirements for certification.
You could complete a postgraduate qualification such as a relevant MSc, or a PhD if you are interested in moving into research. See the Postgrad website for postgraduate courses.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a pet behaviour counsellor you should have:
- animal-handling skills and experience
- knowledge of dog training
- good spoken and written communication skills
- the ability to empathise with clients and gain their trust
- the ability to motivate pet owners
- a tactful approach when offering advice
- awareness of animal welfare legislation
- the ability to keep records and accounts
- have good coaching skills
- awareness of your own limitations and the importance of involving other animal-related professionals when required
- commitment to on-going professional learning and development.
You would usually be self-employed or work in a private consulting firm, although you may find employment with an animal welfare charity such as Blue Cross, which runs an animal behaviour service.
You may find the following link useful for job vacancies and general reading:
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